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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Favorite Sherlockians

When I was a lad, I used to ride the bus downtown on Saturdays to the main Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. It's four times bigger today, but even then it was a great library. At some point I was overjoyed to learn there that Sherlock Holmes was more than just nine volumes. The library also had books about the great detective written by people with names like Starrett and Baring-Gould. 

Those other books weren't primary sources, but they did help to make me a Sherlockian. Friend and fellow blogger Matt Laffey and I have been musing to each other about our favorite Sherlockians of the past. We decided to each post a list of our top five -- mine here, and Mr. Laffey over at his always1895.net blog. We agreed to two rules for our choices: they have to be real people, and they have to be no longer among the living.

In my case, the first four were mandatory. It was only the fifth that required some internal debate. In each case their accomplishments are many and my descriptions limited:

1. Monsignor Ronald A. Knox. His famous satirical essay, "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes," virtually launched the Higher Criticism of the Canon, otherwise known as The Game.

2. Christopher Morley. In addition to founding the Baker Street Irregulars in his Saturday Review of Literature column and nominating January 6 as the Master's birthday, he wrote (among dozens of Holmes pieces) "In Memorium: Sherlock Holmes," the peerless introduction to Doubleday's The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

3. Vincent Starrett. An original BSI member, this American man of letters wrote the landmark book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as well as perhaps the greatest of all pastiches, "The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet."

4. William S. Baring-Gould. His Sherlock Holmes of  Baker Street, which I first read as a youth, could be legitimately criticized as being too inventive and straying too far from source material. But Baring-Gould's scholarship in creating the original Annotated Sherlock Holmes is beyond quibble.

5. Edgar W. Smith. In a close choice, I round out my five with the first editor of The Baker Street Journal and Profile by Gaslight over one of his successors, Dr. Julian Wolff.


Five is such a small number that I have to add host of honorable mentions in alphabetical order. Perhaps I will detail their achievements another day.

T.S. Blakeney
Anthony Boucher
Gavin Brend
John Dickson Carr
August Derleth
T.S. Eliot
Howard Haycraft
James Holroyd
Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay)
S.C. Roberts
Dorothy L. Sayers
Rex Stout
Jack Tracy
Julian Wolff
More importantly, who are your Fab Five?


  1. A reasonable list except for #1's all too common error. The notion that Knox's college paper "virtually launched the Higher Criticism" is a myth -- he was far from the first to undertake Higher Criticism of the Canon, and not the writer whose work actually influenced others: that was S. C. Roberts in his 1931 monograph DOCTOR WATSON. See my Summer 2011 SHERLOCK HOLMES JOURNAL article "The Ronald Knox Myth," and also http://www.bsiarchivalhistory.org/BSI_Archival_History/Disputations_dept.html.

    For my own list, #1 Edgar W. Smith, #2 Christopher Morley, #3 Vincent Starrett, #4 S. C. Roberts, #5 Elmer Davis.
    -- Jon Lellenberg, the Baker Street Irregulars' historian

  2. Thanks, Jon. I'm honored that you read and commented on my blog.

  3. I think Elmer Davis is an excellent pick but until I do a little more research on him I fear I would confuse Elmer Davis (the real life person) with the portrayal of Mr Davis in Jon Lellenberg's excellent novel _Baker_Street_Irregular_ (if you haven't, it's a must read). Google wast too helpful answering this question, but has there been an Elmer David-centric 'BSI Xmas Annual' or something similar? The world needs to know....